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By Tristan 

Downtown Malta building burns, hotel evacuated


MALTA (AP) — A fire broke out early Wednesday in downtown Malta, destroying a building that housed a weekly newspaper and forcing the evacuation of a nearby motel, authorities said.

Crews from four fire departments in the region were fighting the blaze, working to prevent it from spreading to buildings on either side, said Phillips County Sheriff Tom Miller. No injuries were reported.

The fire appeared to be contained to the one building by late Wednesday morning, though crews were still finding hot spots in the building, Phillips County sheriff's dispatcher April Ritchey said.

Smoke that covered downtown area lifted, though fire crews were still diverting traffic to another block. The Great Northern Motel, less than 200 feet away from the blaze, was evacuated as a precaution, Miller said.

The fire has destroyed the newspaper's office and four other businesses in the building, Miller said.

"The ceiling's gone, the front end's fallen," Miller said. "I don't think there's going to be anything left of that building."

The buildings on either side each share a wall with the burned building. Those neighboring businesses, a bar and a department store, reported smoke damage, Phillips County News reporter John Degel told The Associated Press.

The fire was reported about 3:45 a.m. by a garbage collector who noticed smoke coming out of the back of the building, Degel said.

The brick building, built around 1920, is owned by the newspaper's owner and publisher, Curtis Starr. Besides the paper, the building housed a beauty parlor, an appliance store, a variety store and a T-shirt and print shop, Degel said.

The fire is believed to have started in the building's basement, though the cause is not yet known, Miller said.

Degel said the newspaper will still go to press on Wednesday, and will be distributed at businesses around town for subscribers to pick up "on the honor system."

It was not immediately clear whether the newspaper's staff of six would operate in the near term. One possibility is working out of the owner's basement, he said.

At least four other fires have broken out on the same block over the last 50 years or so, Degel said.


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